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New study questions response to communicable disease on US domestic airline flights

Monday, April 4, 2016

David Dausey

A new study, led by David Dausey of Mercyhurst University, suggests that local health departments and other key responders are ill-prepared to respond to issues surrounding communicable disease on U.S. domestic airline flights.

Dausey said that increasing globalization has led to public health concerns over the spread of communicable diseases, including influenza, Ebola and coronavirus, from one geographic location to another by way of commercial airlines.

Despite concerns, he said, research has been limited on appropriate responses and coordination of capabilities across responders.

The new study is published in the March issue of Epidemiology: Open Access. Besides Dausey, a nationally known public health expert, other research partners include public health faculty Thomas Cook and James Teufel and alumni Emily Francis and Matthew Vendeville, all representing the Zurn College of Natural and Health Sciences at Mercyhurst. Second author is Paul Biedrzycki of the University of Wisconsin.

Dausey and his team conducted a tabletop exercise to simulate crisis management of a U.S. domestic flight transporting a passenger infected with probable MERS-CoV (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome). The simulation centered around a broad range of stakeholders in a medium-sized Midwestern city that represented airport operations, public health, fire and emergency management personnel.

The exercise tackled topics like communication, management and coordination. Participants struggled to articulate an overall communication strategy and debated issues like: what agency would take the lead in communicating with the crew, what should the crew be told to do, what should be told to the passengers, should the sick passenger be moved to a different part of the plane, and what should be done after the flight lands?

The exercise revealed gaps in public health preparedness among response partners and suggested the need to integrate training, practices and policies for communicable disease management across all sectors.

The study was funded through a cooperative agreement with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and a grant from the National Association of County and City Health Officials.